Monday, December 9, 2019

A Story of Redemption

The theme of the entire Bible is redemption—God redeeming us from our sin. The Old Testament gives us picture after picture of redemption. God killed an animal to cover the sin of Adam and Eve. But, in Genesis chapter 22, we find an even clearer picture of redemption. It is the story of when God commanded Abraham to go and sacrifice his son in the area of Mt. Moriah (what is today Jerusalem). How these words must have gripped Abraham’s heart: God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about” (Gen 22:2).

I used to wonder about this story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his one and only son. The story didn’t make sense to me. How could God who is against human sacrifice ask Abraham to do this abominable thing? The story reveals that he only asks Abraham, who was willing to complete the task in amazing faith and obedience—but he stopped him a split second short of killing his son. However, in this story, we see what God did for us. He did what was not right—sacrificing his son for us. He never stopped short of killing his son. This story is a preview of Calvary two millenniums later.

Human sacrifice was not foreign to Abraham; he would have known of it in Ur and Canaan. The very idea of killing his son and then burning his body as an offering had to be impossible for his mind to grasp. Yet in spite of all the questions, Abraham did not doubt God. After three days’ journey, they were able to see the place where they needed to be in the distance. Abraham told his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship, and then we will come back to you” (Gen 22:4-5).

What completely amazes us is that Abraham believed they would come back, both he and Isaac. Even if he sacrificed Isaac, God would raise him because how else could God complete his promise to make a great nation through Abraham’s descendants.

I believe the heart of this story is in these words:

“Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided’” (Gen 22:13-14).

Abraham arranged the wood, tied Isaac (a willing sacrifice), and then took the knife in his hand to slay his son. A split second before he brought the knife down God stopped him. Then Abraham looked, and there was ram caught in a thicket, and he sacrificed the animal in Isaac’s place. It says instead of his son. Redemption on the scale of the universe is what God did for us when he sacrificed his son for us. God provided the ram for Abraham, and he provided his son for the sin of the world. There was no split-second stop when Jesus died on the same mountain almost 2000 years later. Here is a story that points to Calvary and the fact that God sacrificed his son instead of you and me.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Being a Good Steward of Pain

God uses everything in our lives for his purposes if we are committed to following him. God wastes nothing, our successes, our failures, our mistakes, messes, and even our stupidity. God is a master-weaver who takes every thread of our lives and weaves it into something beautiful.

We sometimes do things right. We sometimes listen to God and follow his path, but other times we don’t listen and head down the wrong road. We look back with regret and are ashamed of our choices and our behavior. However, God uses it all!

For example, when Sarah saw Ismael making fun of her 3-year-old son Isaac, she insisted that Hagar and Ismael be sent away. Sarah did not act right! She was rude and indifferent, but she loved God. God did not abandon Sarah for her mess up. God saw that the situation distressed Abraham, and he said: “It’s alright Abraham, I will take care of Hagar and Ismael.”

This whole mess is the result of Abraham and Sarah’s lack of faith, and it brought him much distress. God, however, graciously worked in his confusion to make sense out of it. God weaves all the colors of our heartaches into something beautiful. God overrules our mistakes, sins, disobedience, and messes to create his own plan, and it is always beautiful.

Affliction is necessary for our lives to experience depth. David said that before he was afflicted, he went astray (Ps 119:67). Without hardship and trials, our lives would be superficial and without the depth of substance. God works with us in those trials to help us grow and mature.

Frederick Buechner writes:

We believe in God—such as it is, we have faith—faith—because certain things happened to us once and go on happening. We work and goof off, we love and dream, we have wonderful times and awful times, are cruelly hurt and hurt others cruelly, get mad and bored and scared stiff and ache with desire, do all such human things as these, and if our faith is not mainly just window dressing or a rabbit’s foot or fire insurance, it is because it grows out of precisely this kind of rich human compost. The God of biblical faith is the God who meets us at those moments in which for better or worse we are being most human, most ourselves, and if we lose touch with those moments, if we don’t stop from time to time to notice what is happening to us and around us and inside us, we run the tragic risk of losing touch with God too.[i]

Buechner talks about being a good steward of our pain, and if we are, God will use us in ways that affect others’ lives in profound ways. Many people run from pain. Some try to forget it by repressing their bad memories. Others blame their suffering on someone else. Some take the victim mentality. Still, others become embittered by their pain. God wants us to see our powerlessness and at the same time, see his power. When that happens, God can use us in marvelous ways, even in times of suffering.

[i] Buechner, Frederick. Telling Secrets (pp. 35-36). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.